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Full text of "Statements of Patrick L. Quinlan on the Fate of the IWW (1917)"

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Statements of Patrick L. Quinlan 
on the Fate of the IWW 

[April and Fall 1917] 

Published in Percy Stickney Grant, Fair Play for the Workers: Some Sides of their Malad- 
justment and the Causes. New York: Moffat, Yard and Co., 1918; pp. 280-284. 

The following statement was prepared for me by Patrick L. Quinlan in 
April 1917: 

Since the great strike of 1913, when the silk industry in Paterson and 
Union Hill, New Jersey; Long Island City and Manhattan, New York; and 
Hazelton, Pennsylvania, was at a standstill, the IWW has given no concrete 
evidence of life in the world of labor. True, it has been heard from fre- 
quently during the past three and a half years, but the disturbance made by 
it was vocal rather than industrial. Indeed, I may safely say that all the ener- 
gies of the IWW during the past few years have been devoted to the Joe Hill 
case, the Everett (Washington) shooting, and to free speech fights of dubi- 
ous value. 

I have just returned from a tour of the industrial centers of the East and 
Middle West and I regret to state that I did not observe any tangible or con- 
crete evidence of IWW activity. On the contrary I noticed a tendency to 
abandon it all along the line. 

In Chicago I was amazed to discover that the central body of trade un- 
ions, the Chicago Federation of Labor, had amongst its delegates several 
men who were formerly active and prominent in the IWW. These were 
WZ. Foster, the writer of pamphlets on syndicalism and sometime leader 
on the Pacific Coast; John A. Jones, once active in Butte, the Mesaba Range, 
and other metalliferous regions; Morris, formerly of the hotel and restaurant 
workers of New York, and several others of more or less importance. 

In New England I found only a remnant of the former greatness of the 
IWW. Small organizations in Lawrence, Providence, and one or two other 
cities, which total only about 3,500 members, comprise the IWW of New 
England. Paterson, New Jersey, where the IWW once lorded it, has now an 
AF of L union which is larger than the IWW local, and an unattached and 
independent silk workers' organization, there is no other branch of the 
IWW in New Jersey, while the Great State of New York has, practically 


speaking, no IWW representation. Baltimore and Philadelphia combined 
have a few thousand longshoremen and freight handlers enrolled in the 
IWW. This with a few "mixed or recruiting locals" here and there sums up 
the IWW strength east of Chicago and St. Louis. 

In the West the position of the IWW is somewhat better. Several thou- 
sand farm hands or agricultural laborers are enrolled in what is known as the 
Agricultural Workers' Organization. All through the West they are dubbed 
as "wobblies" and they have taken kindly to the name. 

There were rumors in Minneapolis that the AWO would throw over- 
board Haywood, the General Secretary, or leave the IWW altogether and go 
it alone. 

Wherever I traveled I observed that the IWW had no standing and 
made little progress when confronted with American Federation of Labor 
opposition. It only secured headway in fields ignored by the older organiza- 

The general conclusions I am compelled to arrive at are: that industrial- 
ism is growing but very slowly; that the development of machinery and the 
elimination of crafts will be the chief contributing cause to the successful 
growth of the industrial idea; that agitation for industrialism has not deeply 
permeated the minds of the mass of workers, though they in a general way 
approve of the outlines of industrialism; that while the AF of L has absorbed 
and is absorbing independent unions (the Bricklayers is a notable example) 
it is not enthusiastically adopting the industrial program. It is true that in- 
dustrial departments like the metal, the mining, the building trades, etc., are 
in existence, but the craft union in the building trades still exercises auton- 
omy and through the international organizations nullifies the usefulness of 
the departments in Washington. The mining trades alone are industrialized, 
but more for organic than educational reasons. 

The failure of the IWW can be laid to two factors, viz., the strength of 
the craft unions and the unreadiness of craft union officials to amalgamate; 
the ignorance of the rank and file; abortive and ill-timed strikes conducted 
by the IWW; opposition to the industrial idea from the press and the big 
interests; and last and most important of all, the nonsensical talk and acts of 
most of the IWW speakers and active workers. Another general reason for 
the decline of the IWW is the psychology of the American people. They will 
not bother with failures. 

In the autumn of 1917 I asked Mr. Quinlan to explain for the benefit of 
this chapter the activities of the IWW in the harvest fields of the Middle and Far 
West. He replied as follows: 

Extraordinary and peculiar conditions produce strange results. The 
quick settlement of the Rocky Mountain States by men of small capital or 
none at all, who could not afford to provide rooms or decent accommoda- 

tions for their temporary employees (harvest work being seasonal); the con- 
stant changes in the ownership of the farms, the migratory character of the 
population, made the establishment of a stable working class impossible, 
hence the roving field hands, or "wobblies," who ride on freight trains from 
Oregon to Kansas in June, and from there back to the later ripening wheat 
fields of North Dakota and Montana. 

Except in a few of the Middle Western states those roving laborers are 
compelled to sleep outdoors all the time and are thereby forced to carry 
their own bed around with them. This explains the term "blanket-stiff." 
None of the old-established and responsible trade unions would enter this 
field of labor. Some men who were members of the IWW in the cities and 
in the lumber camps being blacklisted and forced to seek work among the 
farmers, seeing the primitive conditions obtaining, sought to remedy them 
by preaching the doctrines of the IWW — but in the weirdest and freakiest 
form. Like some of the medieval saints they glorified in their misery in be- 
ing outcasts. Their songs, notably "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum," illustrate finely 
this phase of their methods and life. In time they developed strength and 
with a fraternity of feeling and loyalty that was most remarkable for a new 
and scattered body that wages many fights. They filled many jails with their 
enthusiasts; they were often needlessly persecuted by the petty czars of the 
towns of the West and they sometimes brought trouble on themselves by 
their own foolishness. 

In time they developed such strength as to be able to organize them- 
selves into a "department" of the IWW called the Agricultural Workers Or- 
ganization, or the AWO, with its own officers, plant, etc. It only nominally 
acknowledges the jurisdiction of Haywood and the IWW Executive Board. 
A case of the child growing more powerful than the parent. 

It is a mistake to accuse them of being anti-war or anti-American. ON 
war matters and war issues the members of the AWO say: "We don't give a 
hang. We are simply trying to get more of the kale for the blanket-stiff and 
the wobbly." They resort to a lot of strange talk about sabotage, but it is in 
most cases foam and froth. 

The majority of its members are American by birth. If they fail to see 
the value of citizenship it is because no attempt has ever been made to give 
them the protection that should go with ordered liberty and statehood. 

Edited by Tim Davenport 

1000 Flowers Publishing, Corvallis, OR • January 2012 • Non-commercial reproduction permitted.